Calculating the average cost of a divorce is a bit like calculating the average price of a house. There is a significant discrepancy, to say the least. Former Today Show host Matt Lauer recently listed his Hamptons estate for $44 million. A small house in an older section of Buffalo will cost a lot, lot less than that. So, the average price of the two means almost nothing.
Therefore, if you ask a Buffalo, MN divorce lawyer a question like “How much does the average divorce cost?”, the only honest answer is “more than you expect.” Anyone who gives you a different answer is most likely inexperienced or simply telling you what you want to hear. Marriage dissolution proceedings vary so much that blanket cost estimates are basically meaningless.
Additionally, divorce costs more than just money, at least in most cases. Typically, there is a significant emotional price as well. Many people alternate between intense sadness and intense happiness. Additionally, many spouses feel a profound sense of loss. They do not mourn the loss of a spouse as much as they mourn the loss of what might have been.
An experienced Buffalo, MN divorce lawyer knows how to minimize both these costs and put long-term solutions in place for you and your family. Furthermore, we are one of the only Minnseota family law firms that offers comprehensive flat fee billing. Based on an initial evaluation, we can calculate the complete cost of a divorce. This complete divorce includes things like marriage dissolution, property division, and financial support. Flat fee billing is also available in modifications and other family law matters.
Types of Divorce
As mentioned, the type of house usually determines its cost. A few other factors, such as location, also apply. Similarly, the type of divorce often determines the cost. A few other factors, such as the lawyer’s experience level, also apply.
Some marriage dissolutions are marital trauma divorces. Things are going rather well until something like abuse or adultery suddenly and unexpectedly poisons the relationship. However, most marriage dissolutions are slow fade divorces. Perhaps the spouses grow apart over time. Or perhaps the marriage is a near-constant cycle of sin and forgiveness, and one spouse simply cannot forgive any longer. These marriages usually break up emotionally long before they break up legally.
So, in most cases, the spouses have been separated for several weeks, months, or even years before someone finally files a divorce petition. There is a good chance that one spouse has moved on, especially if no young children were involved.
When one spouse files, a Buffalo, MN divorce lawyer usually calls the proceeding an absentee spouse marriage dissolution. Since these matters often involve little more than filing papers, the cost of divorce could be rather minimal. Most courts allow citation by publication in a newspaper or even posting on the courthouse door. There’s practically no way a respondent will see these notices. So, once a brief waiting period ends, the judge often signs a divorce decree.
Don’t be fooled. Absentee divorces are surprisingly complex. For example, the aforementioned citation must include certain magic words, must appear in the right place, and must run for the prescribed amount of time. A mistake in any area could enable the respondent to completely undo the divorce, even many years after the fact.
These marriage dissolutions are sometimes called waiver divorces. There are no substantive questions about parenting time, child support, property division, spousal support, or anything else. The petitioner files for divorce, the respondent signs all the papers, and the judge approves everything.
If the spouses were married less than six months and they are both ready to move on, the divorce might well be agreed. In general, these matters are a bit more time-consuming than absentee spouse divorces, but they are not substantially more expensive.
Those are two pretty big “ifs.” The average marriage which ends in divorce lasts about eight years. Most people have children and/or acquire property during this period. Parenting time, property division, and other issues usually cannot be resolved with just the stroke of a pen.
Additionally, if the spouses were only married a short while, the respondent often isn’t willing to let go so quickly. There is no legal defense to uncontested divorce in Minnesota. Only one spouse must testify that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. However, respondents can and do drag things out and make the divorce more expensive, usually in the hope that the petitioner will give up.
Most marriage dissolutions fall into this category. Neither spouse wants a protracted legal battle. But at the same time, neither spouse wants to go gentle into that good night.
We touched on some common divorce issues above. In an uncontested divorce, one or more of these issues might require dvorce mediation, which is outlined below. For now, let’s look at some common uncontested divorce issues more closely.
- Parenting Time: There is a presumption that children benefit from consistent and meaningful contact with both parents. Parents frequently disagree as to what words like “consistent and meaningful” mean in a given context. Other parents disagree about the residential/non-residential designation.
- Child Support: Frequently, the guidelines provide the support obligation. But judges can ignore the guidelines in some situations. Furthermore, some parents try to hide income or assets from their spouses in order to reduce their financial obligations.
- Spousal Support: The same issues regarding asset or income-concealment apply here. Moreover, Minnesota laws are rather subjective in this area. The amount and duration of payments depends on a number of factors, such as the length of the marriage and the relative earning ability of the spouses.
- Property Division: Roughly these same subjective factors apply to the division of debt and assets. About the only guidance is that Minnesota is an equitable distribution state. The divorce cannot be an unfair financial burden on either party.
Uncontested divorces usually begin and end in much the same way as agreed divorces. The intermediate process could take several months or even several years. The length of that process, and the complexity of the issues, usually determines the cost of an uncontested divorce.
Only a handful of matters are contested divorces. Many Buffalo, MN divorce lawyers only handle two or three every eight or ten years.
Some people want or need the emotional closure that a divorce trial often uniquely offers. Other people want or need a judicial declaration that the breakup of the marriage was the other spouse’s fault. Still other times, the parties are so far apart on one or more of the aforementioned issues that they cannot possibly work out a settlement, even with a mediator’s help.
The judge’s rulings are pretty much final in these situations. Appeals are possible, but usually only successful if the judge abused his/her discretion or made an extremely serious error.
Reducing the Financial Cost of Divorce
Sometimes, attorneys have little or no control over the financial cost of divorce. If the adverse party agrees on most issues, the cost is generally lower. On the opposite end of the scale, if the adverse party bitterly contests every decision or throws up roadblocks, the cost could skyrocket.
We touched on asset concealment above. This problem is one of the most common cost-increasing factors in a Wright County divorce.
People try lots of different things to hide money. Common schemes include voluntarily increasing wage withholding to make their paychecks look smaller, moving assets to LLCs or other entities, and “transferring” items or accounts to friends or family members. These plans always unravel eventually, but many times, a Buffalo, MN divorce lawyer must work hard to make the house of cards fall.
This work usually happens during divorce discovery. The law requires both parties to put all their cards, including financial records, on the table. To get the right answers, a lawyer must simply know the right questions to ask, or rather the right requests to make. If disputes arise over what must be produced and when, a judge usually resolves these matters.
Other times, however, attorneys have considerable control over divorce costs. Mediation is one of the best ways to reduce legal fees. The Department of Justice estimates that mediation and other alternative dispute resolution options saved litigants about $15 million in 2017.
Generally, it takes less time to prepare for mediation than trial. Mediation usually only lasts a full day or perhaps even a half day. There are no witnesses to question or cross-examine, no legal motions to argue, and no lengthy arguments to present. A trial, on the other hand, could last several days and include all these things.
Furthermore, mediation resolves divorce cases faster than trials. The DOJ also estimated that meditation reduced litigation time by a collective 13,886 days in 2017. Since time is money to clients and Buffalo, MN divorce lawyers, the faster the case is over, the lower the cost will be.
How Buffalo, MN Divorce Lawyers Reduce the Emotional Cost of Divorce
As outlined above, mediation could significantly lower the financial cost of marriage dissolution. Mediation usually reduces the emotional cost of divorce as well.
Trials are almost always public record. All the court filings are public, and anyone can attend the proceeding. Especially if marital fault is an issue in the divorce or the property division, such scrutiny can be truly awful.
Mediation, on the other hand, is private. Mediation usually takes place in an office building instead of a courthouse. Furthermore, only the parties know the date, time, and location. The only public document is a brief mediation report, which simply states that the case either settled or did not settle.
Additionally, mediation increases civility. The parties spend most of the time in separate rooms. They only interact with the mediator, who uses shuttle diplomacy to try and facilitate a settlement. On a related note, mediation is also empowering. When future disputes arise, and they always do, the parties often try to talk them out before they rush to hire Buffalo, MN divorce lawyers.
Trials, on the other hand, are emotional showdowns. These events are great theater for TV and movies, but they are often very hard on families.
On a final note, mediation increases control. The parties make important decisions instead of a Wright County family law judge. This added control is especially important if one or both parties have problems accepting authority.
So far, we’ve looked at litigation divorces. Litigation divorces often do not involve trials. In fact, over 90 percent of these matters settle out of court. But there is usually at least one court hearing.
For example, at the temporary hearing, the judge sets ground rules for the divorce proceeding, including protective orders as needed. The judge also orders temporary financial support and a temporary parenting time division.
Technically, these orders expire when the judge finalizes the divorce. However, there’s an inertia factor. If the temporary orders work, even if they are not perfect, most judges hesitate to change them.
Collaborative law is a non-litigation divorce. As such, it often has very different emotional and financial costs. Litigation divorces usually begin when one spouse files a marriage dissolution petition. Collaborative law divorces begin when both parties submit a joint collaborative law declaration. That’s usually the only court filing in the case.
There are no court hearings, mediation sessions, or discovery motions in a collaborative law divorce. Instead, the parties meet privately about once a month to discuss the aforementioned divorce issues. If outside help is required, like a child psychologist or real estate agent, the parties usually split the costs. Many collaborative divorces are resolved after about six or eight meetings.
If things go wrong and the parties cannot reach an agreement, they must start over with new Buffalo, MN divorce lawyers. This rule helps ensure that the parties are fully committed to the process.
This alternative is an excellent choice in some situations. Obviously, however, it’s not for everybody.
Rely on a Dedicated Divorce Attorney in Buffalo, MN
There are a number of ways to reduce the emotional and/or financial costs of divorce. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN divorce lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.
This article was originally published on July 2. 2019 and updated on June 29, 2021.